Melting Coral

July 13, 2007 at 4:16 pm (frightening things, injustice) ()

Who knew coral could melt?

Okay, so “melt” may not actually be the most accurate verb to describe what’s happening to the ocean’s coral, but it gives you the right idea. Both soft corals (the kind with no exoskeleton) and hard corals (with exoskeletons) are being quickly killed off. You see, there’s certain algae that enjoys a symbiotic relationship with coral and when placed under large amounts of stress, like the stress caused by the globe’s rising temperature, the algae disappears and the coral dies. This is also called “bleaching,” because when the living constituents of hard coral disappear, the coral loses it’s color and appears white. Sometimes hard coral recovers. But soft coral never does.

“Once soft corals disappear, the entire ecosystem is threatened,” Benayahu said.

“Many organisms [such as reef fish] are associated with the corals, and once the host disappears, all the associated organisms will disappear as well.”

In addition, harmful macro-algae—which compete with corals—can settle on the barren reefs, preventing coral larvae from regrowing the colonies.

Soft corals once covered 50 to 60 percent of some of the sites Benayahu studies. This figure has now dropped to an average of five percent.

“I’m afraid we’ve already lost knowledge of the real diversity of some sites,” he said.

“There is such a huge gap in our knowledge of soft corals …. But it’s too late, we have now actually missed the boat.”

What a shame.

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1 Comment

  1. Daisy said,

    I’m really glad we went to that reef in Belize. While we there I kept thinking, “Memorize this, so you can make future generations believe it was real.”

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